Honoring Tommy Raskin

Image from: https://repraskin.medium.com/statement-of-congressman-jamie-raskin-and-sarah-bloom-raskin-on-the-remarkable-life-of-tommy-raskin-f93b0bb5d184

While following former President Trump’s second impeachment trial in recent weeks, I learned that the 25-year-old son of Impeachment Manager Senator Jamie Raskin passed away on New Year’s Eve. As Raskin told NPR about his son Tommy:

“Tommy was remarkable from the beginning. He had a photographic memory and, like some other kids in our family, knew all the presidents and vice presidents in order. But it wasn’t his mind that marked him as so extraordinary. It was his heart. The stories of his love and compassion are absolutely astounding.”

A remembrance written by Tommy’s parents is filled with evidence of giftedness across his life. Tommy’s actions were consistently geared towards helping others and making the world a better place. In high school, Tommy “began to follow his own piercing moral and intellectual insights looking for answers to problems of injustice, poverty and war.” He wrote precociously, eagerly performing his plays and poems “for audiences astounded by his precocious moral vision, utter authenticity of emotion, and beauty of expression.” He was an:

” . . . anti-war activist, a badass autodidact moral philosopher and progressive humanist libertarian, and a passionate vegan who composed imperishable, knock-your-socks-off poetry linking systematic animal cruelty and exploitation to militarism and war culture.”

Tommy was also deeply impacted by depression, eventually leading him to take his own life. He asked for forgiveness from his family in his farewell note.

Tommy’s many contributions to the world during the 25 years he was here are ample evidence that gifted souls care oh-so-deeply about their world, their fellow humans, and all of existence.  I will end by sharing just a few more words from the Raskins’ remembrance:

“Tommy Raskin had a perfect heart, a perfect soul, a riotously outrageous and relentless sense of humor, and a dazzling radiant mind. He began to be tortured later in his 20s by a blindingly painful and merciless ‘disease called depression’ . . .  a kind of relentless torture in the brain for him, and despite very fine doctors and a loving family and friendship network of hundreds who adored him beyond words and whom he adored too, the pain became overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable at last for our dear boy, this young man of surpassing promise to our broken world.”

I remain sincerely grateful to the Raskins for their willingness to share so openly about their gifted son’s triumphs and struggles. Their remembrance not only honors Tommy, but opens a pathway for the rest of us to engage in honest and challenging discussions with our kids and each other.

Thank you.

To read more about gifted young adults whose lives have ended far too soon, please see this post

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Book Reflections #6: Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students

“When you struggle, when you feel like you have failed… remember, there is no way you can fail… if you are continuously trying to help your child move in the direction of mastery and acceptance of [their] emotional intensity” (p. 197). 

In her book Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (2016), Christine Fonseca offers a powerful resource to parents and teachers seeking guidance on how to support gifted children through their emotional intensities.

In Part One (What is Really Means to Be Gifted), Fonseca defines emotional intensity as “strong and intense emotional reactions to various situations”, often characterized by “frequent wavering between happiness and anxiety” (p. 28). While emotional intensity can manifest as “explosive outbursts, crying jags, paralyzing anxiety, or fear”, it also shows up as “giddiness, highly frenetic energy, laughter, and general happiness.”

Fonseca points out that “another aspect of emotional intensity lies in a strong affective memory” – “not just the events of a situation, but the feelings associated with the event as well.” Indeed, “some of the negative aspects of emotional intensity . . . include excessive fear in seemingly normal situations, highly critical self-talk, extreme guilt and shame related to perceived imperfections, and the feeling of being out of control” (p. 29). These can have serious ramifications on a person’s life, and are a powerful reminder of why it’s so important to help kids learn to manage their strong emotions effectively. (I sure wish I’d had more of this support earlier on in my life . . . )

Fonseca also discusses temperament (introversion and extroversion), gender, and twice-exceptionality as variables that can impact how we manifest and deal with emotional intensity.

(What’s missing from this section is an emphasis on how cultural diversity and race can impact the ways in which gifted kids’ emotional intensity is expressed and perceived by others. Emotionally ‘explosive’ behavior by kids from communities of color, for instance, can place them especially at risk in school. I’ll be addressing other resources available on this topic in future posts.) 

In Part Two (Great Information, But Now What?) Fonseca turns to specific strategies for supporting emotionally intense kids, starting with Building a Solid Foundation (Ch. 6). This involves “creating a space that allows the child to develop the positive aspects of giftedness while also mediating the negative aspects” (p. 59). Steps include: 1) providing clear expectations and consequences for behavior, 2) setting appropriate boundaries, and 3) offering authentic opportunities for involvement in the household (or classroom). Fonseca recommends holding family (or classroom) meetings, doing regular household/classroom “inventories”, and maintaining continuous communication between school and home.

In Chapter 7, Fonseca directly addresses “Working With the Explosion”, noting that “explosions are not always aggressive outbursts of behavior” but instead can sometimes be “more passive, subtle expressions of protest” such as “anxious and sad behavior” (p. 79). (This is a really important and powerful distinction; it makes me wonder whether “explosive” is the most appropriate term to use, given that “implosive” seems equally relevant.) What these reactions have in common, however, is children expressing their (natural) desire for “power and control, or autonomy, in their lives”.

Fonseca points out that the best strategy for managing explosive outbursts is to prevent or defuse them by recognizing warning signs of escalation – including “an agitated tone of voice, a change in body language, or tears welling in the eyes” (p. 81) – and helping kids to recognize these in themselves. She suggests “developing an emotional language” to use with your child (working collaboratively to identify key phrases and words), and providing kids with a variety of techniques to calm their emotions.

During the crisis, Fonseca recommends disengaging “from the emotional aspect of the crisis”, ensuring “everyone is safe”, providing a “cooling off” period, and remembering that “some things are best ignored” (p. 96). After the crisis (during what Fonseca refers to as the “cleaning up” stage), it’s important to remember that “all explosions are teachable moments”, that we can “debrief and strategize” with our kids, and that consequences (either natural or contrived) should occur.

In Part Three (Being Your Child’s Coach: Specific Strategies), Fonseca walks us through various “explosive” scenarios with kids and helps us think about reframing our language. She discusses what it means to be a coach for our kids (including effective communication, effective facilitation, and being a source of inspiration), and then addresses a variety of different challenges related to Relationships, Performance, and Behavior.  Fonseca is compassionate and generous in naming the various ways we may be tempted to handle a situation with our child, while also providing and explaining reasonable alternatives to try next time. What her reframes all have in common is aiming towards the goal of helping “your child learn to master his own emotions” (p. 197).

Fonseca closes her book by reminding us:

“Raising gifted children is a difficult job. More often than not, we feel overwhelmed – both because of the intensity we are confronted with every day and our own guilt when we are unsuccessful in our dealings with our children” (p. 197).

This most definitely rings true. Each time I support one of my kids through an emotionally intense situation, I end up feeling completely drained myself, like I need the rest of the day to recover. With that said, this is obviously some of the most important work we can do with and for our kids – and knowing that our actions and words can help set them up for future success and autonomy makes the commitment more than worthwhile.

I’ll be returning to concepts from Fonseca’s book in future blog posts, relating them back to specific (challenging) moments from my own childhood as well as current parenting (and partnering!) scenarios. Stay tuned!


Fonseca, C. (2016). Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (2nd Edition). Prufrock Press Inc.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Book Reflections #5: “Searching for Meaning” by James T. Webb

“Among bright and caring people, disillusionment is not rare, and it can lead to feelings of despair and aloneness” (p. 9). 

For my fifth Book Reflections overview, I’ll be discussing my thoughts on James T. Webb’s Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope (2015). Dr. Webb, who passed away in 2018, is well-known in gifted circles as the founder of SENG and co-author of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (2007).  As described by Austina De Bonte (former President of the Northwest Gifted Child Association) in her August 2018 newsletter:

[Jim Webb] was a truly remarkable person – the spiritual leader of many in the gifted community, and the kindest, most welcoming soul I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. [He] founded SENGifted.org, wrote some of the most important books in the field, started the “Misdiagnosis and Missed Diagnosis” initiative, and was extremely generous with his time, speaking often at conferences and in various communities – including a west coast tour last spring that included several stops in our area. Jim‘s work dramatically increased the awareness and support of the emotional needs of gifted individuals – and his legacy invites each of us to carry on and do our part in continuing this vital mission.

Like Austina, I am deeply grateful to Dr. Webb on so many fronts – and I write this blog post with keen appreciation and happiness that he was able to pass along his values and ideas through this book, as part of his own “ethical will” (a concept he proposes and discusses in Chapter 8).

I’ll begin with a brief overview of how this book is structured. [The teacher in me likes to prep readers for what’s to come…] 

In Chapter 1 (“Searching for Meaning”), Webb provides a succinct overview of key ideas from his book. He then moves directly into discussing idealism and illusions in Chapter 2 (“Idealism: Do You Get it From Your Parents, or Does it Just Come Naturally?”), and in Chapter 3 (“Bright and Inquiring Minds Want to Know!”) he describes how and why gifted individuals are more likely to be idealists who become disillusioned.

Webb turns to the “heavy topic” of depression and despair in Chapter 4 (“Gloom and Misery and Despair: So Much Depression Everywhere”), which I’ll only touch on briefly here, but will return to in a future blog post given how much there is to say on this topic. He shifts to “personal meaning” in Chapter 5 (“Life Meaning and Existential Concerns”), and in Chapter 6 (“Awareness and Acceptance”) he addresses life stages (covered in further depth in Ellen Fiedler’s subsequent Bright Adults [2015]).

In Chapters 7 and 8 (“Some Not-So-Healthy Coping Styles that Feed Illusions” and “Healthier Coping Styles that Go Beyond Illusions”), Webb discusses the variety of ways in which we tend to cope with disillusionment and despair – some less helpful, some more helpful, and some dangerous. Webb wraps his book up in Chapter 9 (“Hope, Happiness, and Contentment”) by reminding us that he can’t provide us with answers, but can hopefully provide a framework for our own unique journey towards a life of personal meaning.

Webb’s book – written from both a personal and professional stance in his own life – was a straightforward and useful read for me, neatly summarizing many key ideas I’ve incorporated over the years from various sources (many of which Webb cites). As someone who’s spent decades searching for meaning, managing my idealism and disillusionment, and finally emerging in recent years with tentative hope (albeit intermingled with ongoing questioning and challenges), I was gratified to see that the unwieldy paths I’ve followed seem to map onto Dr. Webb’s recommendations. I’m grateful to have an invaluable resource (this book) to recommend to those in the midst of crippling confusion and despair (as I once was – many times), and I appreciate Webb’s validation that none of us will ever be “done” with existential despair. Instead, it’s something we must learn to live with.

Below, I’ll briefly share just a few of the key ideas and quotes that stood out to me from each chapter of Webb’s book:

Chapter 1: “When metacognition is combined with idealism, intensity, and sensitivity, it often results in people feeling separated from the world around them” (p. 15).

This powerful quote stood out to me instantly as I started reading Webb’s book. I’ve used the terms “disembodied” and “dissociated” to describe how I’ve felt at times when I’ve (metaphorically) looked down at myself and wondered who I am, what I’m doing, and what the point of it all is. Existential musings and concerns have been an inextricable component of my life from a very early age – and I hear similar echoes in statements from my three gifted kids. My 8 year old daughter I., for instance, mused out loud the other day while doing schoolwork: “I wonder how life happened? I wonder how my hand is moving?” And during read-aloud time at night, my 10 year old son D. has said to me numerous times, “I keep waiting for the book that will show us this is all a dream we’re going to wake up from one day.” He says this with bemusement and wonder rather than distress, though I anticipate this might change as he gets older; we’ll see.

Chapter 2: “We create illusions and beliefs about things that we cannot see, prove, nor disprove… ‘Fictional finalisms’ . . . are part of our idealism [and]  lessen our anxiety because they help us feel more in control of our world and of things we do not understand” (p. 31).

I appreciate Webb’s mentioning of the term fictional finalisms (coined by psychotherapist Alfred Adler), since this acknowledges humans’ need to create illusions that we can hold on to for security – as well as the challenges that emerge when said illusions are questioned and/or confronted. I can recall many such instances in my own life, each filled with just as much pain and anguish as Webb outlines in his book. It’s not easy to confront and overcome “convenient fictions”, but it’s also often inevitable. This topic merits numerous additional blog posts in the future, so I’ll leave it at this for now. 

Chapter 3: “Not surprisingly, bright minds are usually also high achievers. These individuals set goals and want to succeed at things that give their lives meaning and that satisfy the questions ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What is my purpose?’ But therein lies a problem. Achievement in what? Should they try to reach their potential in all of the areas they’re involved in? What really is success?” (p. 56)

Here, Webb accurately identifies the stickiest of challenges facing many gifted individuals: the meta-questioning behind our strivings. Even once we determine our next goal, there’s no guarantee we won’t question the “veracity” of that, too. This leads me to the quote I selected from the following chapter…

Chapter 4:  “Even when [gifted individuals] make progress toward a goal, they focus on what is still left to do. Their idealism prompts them to engage in ‘goal vaulting’. That is, they set a goal, but then when they get close to achieving it, they vault over it and set a new and loftier goal, meanwhile forgetting that they have accomplished the original goal they set for themselves. They continually raise the bar on their level of aspiration” (p. 73).

In a recent episode of Emily Kircher-Morris’s “Neurodiversity Podcast (formerly known as the “Mind Matters Podcast”), she talks with a doctoral student researching “imposterism” (a.k.a. “imposter syndrome”), and during their talk, Webb’s concept of goal vaulting is referenced. I’ve been doing this my entire life without realizing it has a name. I received my doctoral degree in 2007 and immediately thought, “Okay, that’s done – now what? Where’s the coveted professorship I’m supposed to embark on next?” Goal vaulting is a bedeviling tendency – one that never allows a person to rest or celebrate (at least for long). 

Chapter 5: “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?” (Stephen Hawking, p. 87)

In Chapter 5, Webb argues that while “most people seem… reasonably content in life” (are they? I’ll have to trust him on this one), gifted individuals must decide:

“How will we choose to spend the time we have in this life in ways that matter to us?” (p. 88).

When our “intensity is combined with multipotentiality” (that is, “brightness in several areas”), gifted individuals “… may become frustrated with the existential limitations of space and time… They have to make choices, but the choices among so many possibilities feel unfair because they seem arbitrary; there is no ‘ultimately right’ choice” (p. 98).

Again, this circles back to meta-questions of ultimate “authority” and “correctness”. Without fictional finalisms to rely on, we must determine alternative methods for making peace with our choices.

Chapter 6: In this chapter, Webb discusses Vince Sweeney and Andrew Mahoney’s “Awareness Model”, consisting of the following As: Awareness, Acknowledgment, Appreciation, and Acceptance.

“Once you stop denying the differences that exist between yourself and others, you can appreciate your abilities. You also may find that you appreciate the uniqueness of others…” (p. 119).

The “four As” of the Awareness model sound deceptively simplistic. In reality, each of these critical stages can take years to address, but can also help move a gifted individual closer to happiness, peace, and meaningful contributions to society.

I understand at least part of the 4 As process as follows: the inherent “narcissism” of childhood must eventually be overcome (in a completely developmentally appropriate fashion) in order to recognize that our own “lived reality” isn’t universal, and that we can (and should/must) learn to get along with a diverse array of humans while maintaining integrity of our own complex identity. (Here I use the term “integrity” in the sense of keeping one’s sense of self intact rather than descending into permanent disintegration – a concept discussed by Kazimierz Dabrowski, and covered briefly by Webb in Chapter 5, where I humbly refer the reader for more detailed information.)

Chapter 7: “Some individuals avoid facing difficult personal issues by keeping busy. Their inner voice tells them, If I stay frantically busy, then I don’t have time to think about life or about the meaning of my behaviors” (p. 132).

There are many strategies used by bright individuals to keep the demons of disillusionment at bay. Webb names the following twelve:

1) insisting on knowing The Truth; 2) “trying to control life, or at least label it”; 3) “keeping busy”; 4) “deliberately not thinking and using distractions”; 5) “clinging to things”; 6) “becoming narcissistic”; 7) “learning to not care”; 8) “numbing your mind”; 9) “seeking novelty and adrenaline rushes”; 10) “camouflaging to keep others from knowing you and your ideals”; 11) “withdrawal and detachment”;  and 12) “anger”.

Keeping (overly) busy (#3) is one way I coped with existential angst as a teenager – though I eventually (inevitably) crashed and burned into #11 (more specifically, I dropped out of school and couldn’t figure out what to do next).  Paralysis – either from too many choices, or from intense self-doubt about one’s ultimate efficacy and value to the world – must be addressed and overcome in order for gifted individuals to thrive… Which leads to the following chapter.

Chapter 8: Here, Webb offers numerous positive strategies for dealing with disillusionment, including the following:

“creating your own life script”, “becoming involved in causes”, “using bibliotherapy and journaling”, “maintaining a sense of humor”, “touching and feeling connected”, “developing authentic relationships”, “compartmentalizing”, “letting go”, “living in the present moment”, “learning optimism and resiliency”, “focusing on the continuity of generations”, “mentoring and teaching”, and “rippling”.

These are all excellent strategies – ones I’ve dabbled with and found solace in over the years – but the final strategy (‘rippling’) merits further mention. Webb writes that rippling – that is, the influence of one’s life rippling “out widely to affect the lives of people”, many of whom you don’t know –

“… is one of the most powerful realizations that can help people manage their idealism and even their disillusionment… Each of us, during our lives, creates ripples that have the potential to spread far…” (pp. 159-160).

I’ll return to the topic of ‘rippling’ in a future blog post.

Chapter 9: “Choose what you want out of your life and start working your way there… You may be concerned that your direction is not the best one or the perfect one for you, or you may doubt that it really has any ultimate meaning. Even so, make a decision to engage in something that seems meaningful to you or to others… The research indicates that making a decision will increase the likelihood that you will experience a sense of contentment, happiness, and hope” (p. 164).

For better and/or for worse, existential angst and questioning are an integral part of many gifted adults’ existence – nonetheless, we must make choices.

Finally, Webb posits that “people who are best able to maintain hope – and their idealism” in the midst of “unhappy or disturbing truths” are:

“… those who have been emotionally supported along the way in their lives, who are able to connect to other idealists, and who have learned how to be resilient in the face of disappointment and failure” (p. 26).

These are powerful words to end on (for now). Support, connection, and resilience are key. Let’s make sure we continue to promote these, even through the most challenging of times.


  • Webb, J.T. (2015). Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope. Great Potential Press.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.